OKLAHOMA CITY - It appears that a proposal to encourage greater teenage participation in driver's education may face little opposition this legislative session. Senators Keith Leftwich (D-Oklahoma City) and Herb Rozell (D-Tahlequah) conducted a public hearing on the issue at the State Capitol this morning.
"I am very pleased by the response to this proposal," said Senator Leftwich. "We are gaining support for this driver's ed package from nearly every sector of society. Education, parents, business, and many others are voicing their enthusiastic support."
The Driver's Education package being offered has three essential components. It offers incentives for local school districts to make driver's ed more convenient for students. It provides more of the state's existing dollars for funding of driver's ed courses. It also gives greater incentive to the students themselves to take driver's ed.
"Driver's education is not a "puff" course, it is the life-skill course," said Chuck Mai, Spokesman for AAA in Oklahoma. "We need to equip teenagers with the tools to survive driving."
Mai notes that in a recent poll of AAA members, 87 percent favor mandatory driver's education for high school students. 70 percent favor a graduated licensing system.
Teenage drivers make up 6 percent of Oklahoma's drivers, but they account for 15 percent of highway collision deaths. By the year 2012, Oklahoma will have 25 percent more teenagers on the road. Auto accidents are the number one threat to the lives of teenagers.
Currently, many school districts are only offering driver's ed during the summer and charging a fairly high tuition, making it hard on working parents. This proposal calls for the state to reimburse schools for more of the cost of courses, if the district offers them during the school day. Districts would also be eligible for the higher reimbursement if the classes were offered just before or immediately following school hours.
Edmond resident Glenna Littleton knows all to well what the AAA statistics mean. Two years ago, her 16 year old son, Brett, died in an automobile accident. The cause was simple inexperience.
"We must do more to educated our children on the rules of the road," said Littleton. "We are sending our kids out with no experience to speak of at all. If this proposal had been in place, my son's accident might never have happened. We need graduated license system. If we save only one life, it will be worth it."
The driver's ed package would create incentives for students to take driver's ed, by installing a graduated licensing program to take effect in the year 2000. Under such a plan, a 16 year old would have a restricted driver's license unless he or she takes a driver's education course. Without driver's ed, they would only be allowed to drive during the day, or to school, work, and church activities after dark.
Some of the others expressing their support for the package include the Oklahoma Highway Users Federation. "We've supported this issue since the early 1960s," said Federation Spokesman Paul Mathews. "We strongly urge the reinstitution of this program."
Representatives from the insurance industry are on board. So says Jim Mays with American Mercury Insurance Group. "We support driver's education and graduated licensing. Both are desperately needed."
Those from the private sector whose business it is to train drivers are also behind the proposal. Robert Cole represents the Professional Driver's Schools Association of Oklahoma.
"Oklahoma is not alone in its neglect of driver's ed," said Cole. Other states have let their driver's ed programs falter as well. We are extremely supportive of any plan to place greater emphasis on driver's education. Parental involvement is also a must."
"Senator Rozell and I are enthused about the great show of support for this driver's ed package," said Senator Leftwich. "I am looking forward to hearing more from the public on this important public safety issue. I am also confident that we will adopt a meaningful driver's education package, which in turn will mean safer streets for all Oklahomans."- 30 -